The Solar Orbiter launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) has captured stunning never-before-seen details of the Sun. A video posted by the ESA on Twitter shows a geyser of gas nicknamed "solar hedgehog" by the scientists.
The images were captured by the orbiter during its close approach in March, the ESA said, adding that it was as close as one-third of the Sun-Earth distance.
A breathtaking view over the #Sun's south pole captured 30 March by @esasolarorbiter. #SolarOrbiter will use Venus gravity to crank up its orbit inclination for a more top-down view of our star's poles, unlocking secrets of solar activity https://t.co/pO6oQCLizg#ExploreFartherpic.twitter.com/CpDev8f24D— ESA Science (@esascience) May 18, 2022
"A breathtaking view over the #Sun's south pole captured 30 March by @esasolarorbiter. #SolarOrbiter will use Venus's gravity to crank up its orbit inclination for a more top-down view of our star's poles, unlocking secrets of solar activity," the agency said in its tweet.
According to the ESA, Solar Orbiter's closest approach to the Sun, known as perihelion, took place on March 26. Its heat shield reached almost 500 degrees Celsius, yet it functioned as expected and protected the spacecraft during its historic first pass, the agency added.
Solar Orbiter also had a view of the Sun's south pole during the pass - the first time any telescope took a glimpse of the region. Scientists believe the image of the Sun's south pole is important as it plays a key role in the generation of its magnetic field.
When it comes to perihelion, the closer the spacecraft approaches to the Sun, the finer the features seen by the remote-sensing device. The spacecraft also absorbed several solar flares and even an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection, giving scientists a taste of real-time space weather forecasting, which is becoming increasingly important given the risk that space weather poses to technology and astronauts, the ESA said.
Solar Orbiter is equipped with 10 science instruments, nine of which are directed by ESA member states and one by American space agency NASA, all of which are operating in tandem to provide unique insight into how our local star works.
Some of the remote-sensing equipment gaze at the Sun, while others are in-situ devices that monitor the circumstances around the spacecraft, allowing scientists to "connect the dots" between what they see on the Sun and what Solar Orbiter "feels" millions of kilometres away.